States have the power to punish sanctuary cities within their borders and to force local police and sheriff’s departments to cooperate in turning illegal immigrants over to the federal government for deportation, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in upholding a Texas law.
The 3-0 decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals marks a major victory for President Trump, who has demanded sanctuary cities be punished for thwarting the federal government and protecting illegal immigrants.
The judges didn’t go that far, but they did say the federal government’s “detainer” requests, which ask local governments to hold illegal immigrants for pickup, are legal. Localities can refuse based on their own resources, the court ruled — but the detainer requests are legal, the judges said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised the ruling.
“Law is in effect,” he said on Twitter.
Known as SB4, the law Mr. Abbott signed last year requires police to determine the legal status of those they encounter during their duties.
The law also punished local elected officials, police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders who enacted or carried out sanctuary policies that refused cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The law explicitly said local jurisdictions should comply with detainer requests.
Immigrant-rights advocates and a number of Texas cities had objected. They said detainers forced state or local police to hold illegal immigrants beyond their usual release time, infringing on their Fourth Amendment rights.
But Judge Edith H. Jones, writing the court’s opinion, said it’s not clear illegal immigrants are covered by the Fourth Amendment. But even beyond that, she said, federal detainer requests are legitimate.
She said that under the Trump administration’s current policy, ICE officers must issue an administrative warrant to accompany their detainer requests. Those warrants serve as a statement of probable cause that local police can rely on to hold someone — just as they would do for any other police officer who makes a valid request.
“Here the ICE-detainer mandate itself authorizes and requires state officers to carry out federal detention requests,” Judge Jones wrote.
The court did rule part of Texas’s law that prohibited local elected officials from endorsing sanctuary policies to be problematic, since it could be seen as an infringement of the officials’ free speech rights.
But she said the state can prevent a locality from adopting or enforcing a sanctuary policy, and can impose penalties on officials who attempt to create sanctuaries.
Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that have policies limiting or, in their more extreme forms, thwarting cooperation with ICE deportation efforts.
The Obama administration opposed sanctuary cities but Mr. Trump has taken that to a new level, going to war with sanctuaries particularly in California.
His administration filed a lawsuit last week challenging three of the state’s sanctuary laws, and on Tuesday Mr. Trump — while visiting San Diego to tour prototypes of his border wall — said he wants Congress to strip federal grant money from sanctuaries in the upcoming spending bill.
His threats have been unpersuasive, with the number of sanctuaries expanding dramatically during his first 14 months in office.
Texas, however, had been a rare bright spot for the Trump administration, with state officials moving to back him up in opposing sanctuaries.
SB4 had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1, but just days before a federal district judge issued a broad injunction.
Judge Orlando Garcia asserted the law would erode trust between police and immigrant communities, making them less safe.
“The mandates, penalties and exacting punishments under SB4 upset the delicate balance between federal enforcement and local cooperation and violate the United States Constitution,” said Judge Garcia.
The 5th Circuit last year quickly stayed much of Judge Garcia’s blockade, and Tuesday’s ruling was an even bigger spanking for the Clinton-appointed Judge Garcia.
Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who appeared before the 5th Circuit during oral argument, said the court did leave open the possibility that Texas’s law could be illegal as it was carried out.
“We are exploring all legal options going forward. The court made clear that we remain free to challenge the manner in which the law is implemented, so we will be monitoring the situation on the ground closely,” he said.
He also said said localities can still object to detainer requests based on lack of resources or other non-immigration restraints.
Andre Segura, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said illegal immigrants also still have the right to remain silent when questioned about their immigration status.
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